Kosovo killings force UN to actJonathan Steele
Wednesday February 9, 2000
Troops from the international peacekeeping force stepped up controls on Kosovo's border with Serbia yesterday to stop special police and paramilitaries in civilian clothes infiltrating Mitrovica.
The increased border security, along with extra foot patrols in the northern part of the Kosovan town, followed the worst attack on Albanian civilians by Serbs since K-For troops arrived last June.
At least five people died and up to 30 were injured on Thursday night after French troops failed to stop gangs firing bullets and throwing grenades into Albanian flats. They also burned vehicles belonging to the United Nations police and aid agencies.
The ostensible trigger for the assault was a grenade attack on a bus last Wednesday which killed two Serbs.
Crowds of Albanians have turned out daily to jeer at the French soldiers who are in charge of security and who have continually blocked free access across Mitrovice's three bridges. The northern part of the town is largely populated by Serbs and the south by Albanians.
The protesters' claims that the French have allowed Mitrovice to slide into partition are receiving an increasingly sympathetic hearing from members of the international police deployed in the town.
An American officer with the UN police said his Albanian interpreter saw Serbs hand out grenades on Saturday. "He rang a colleague at police headquarters on the southern side who alerted me. I asked K-For to do something, but the French told me they didn't want to inflame the Serbs.
"The rules of engagement are screwed up," he said. "When it's an issue of weapons, the police cannot go in unless we're accompanied by K-For. They refused to do that."
The American said that, as the Serb gangs marauded on Thursday, another policeman watched from his balcony as Serbs beat a woman to death. "French K-For troops were nearby but they just stood and watched," the American said.
Lying in hospital with a wounded leg, Emina Gjaka, 12, recalled her terror at the attacks. "It was the noise, the pain, and the shouts of the Serbs that they would kill us all." Grenades were flung into the flat where she was sheltering, killing a 13-year-old boy. Her mother died a day later.
After the killings the French ferried around 100 people to safety in southern Mitrovice. Another hundred left separately, leaving around 3,000 Albanians in the north.
"The Serb action was deliberately timed when the French were rotating their troops with a new general and new men coming to the city on February 1," said Nexhmedin Spahiu, the editorial controller of Radio Mitrovice, an independent broadcasting station.
He also speculated that the attack was meant to raise tensions as the UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, tried to persuade moderate Kosovo Serb leaders to join a new interim governing council for the territory.
Mr Kouchner appeared to agree when he said: "It was the first day for the French general and his troops, and it was not easy to move in an unknown town in the dark. Politically, we were on the verge of moving forward. I have a letter from Bishop Artemije [the leader of Kosovo's Orthodox Serbs] saying he was coming to the meeting of the new administrative council. That was the reason for the attacks."
Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido, the K-For spokesman, confirmed yesterday that German and Italian troops had been deployed in northern Mitrovice to strengthen the French-led team.